I'm a therapist who uses EMDR as my primary method and I've also personally had EMDR therapy for anxiety, grief, and “small t” trauma. As a client, EMDR worked extremely well and also really fast. As an EMDR therapist, and in my role as a facilitator who trains other therapists in EMDR (certified by the EMDR International Assoc. and trained by the EMDR Inst, both of which I strongly recommend in an EMDR therapist) I have used EMDR successfully with PTSD, anxiety, depression, grief, body image, phobias, panic attacks, distressing memories, and bad dreams.
Yet 20 yrs ago I resisted studying EMDR despite the raves I was hearing among my trauma-savvy colleagues (I did pre- and post-doc psychology internships at the Trauma Center in Boston - see TraumaCenter dot org. I finally checked it out with very critical eyes and discovered something quite awesome.
Having PTSD means certain things trigger you and that's pretty disturbing. Grounding exercises are terrifically helpful. You can use some of the techniques in Dr. Shapiro's new book "Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR." Dr. Shapiro is the founder/creator of EMDR but all the proceeds from the book go to two charities: the EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Program and the EMDR Research Foundation). Anyway, the book is terrific. It's an easy read, helps you understand what's "pushing" your feelings and behavior, helps you connect the dots from past experiences to current life. Also gives lots of really helpful ways that are used during EMDR therapy to calm disturbing thoughts and feelings.
One of the initial phases (Phase 2) in EMDR involves preparing for memory processing or desensitization (memory processing or desensitization - phases 3-6 - is often referred to as "EMDR" which is actually an 8-phase method of psychotherapy). In this phase resources are "front-loaded" so that you have a "floor" or "container" to help with processing the really hard stuff, as well as creating strategies when you're triggered in everyday life. In Phase 2 you learn a lot of great coping strategies and self-soothing techniques which you can use during EMDR processing or anytime you feel the need.
You learn how to access a “Safe or Calm Place” which you can use at ANY TIME during EMDR processing (or on your own) if it feels scary, or too emotional, too intense. One of the key assets of EMDR is that YOU, the client, are in control NOW, even though you probably weren’t in the past, during traumatic events. You NEVER need re-live an experience or go into great detail, ever! You NEVER need to go through the entire memory. YOU can decide to keep the lights (or the alternating sounds and/or tactile pulsars, or the waving hand) going, or stop them, whichever helps titrate – measure and adjust the balance or “dose“ of the processing. During EMDR processing there are regular “breaks” and you can control when and how many but the therapist should be stopping the bilateral stimulation every 25-50 passes of the lights to ask you to take a deep breath and ask you to say just a bit of what you’re noticing. (The stimulation should not be kept on continuously, because there are specific procedures that need to be followed to process the memory). The breaks help keep a “foot in the present” while you’re processing the past. Again, and I can’t say this enough, YOU ARE IN CHARGE so YOU can make the process tolerable. And your therapist should be experienced in the EMDR techniques that help make it the gentlest and safest way to detoxify bad life experiences and build resources.
Pacing and dosing are extremely important! So if you ever feel that EMDR processing is overwhelming, then it might be time to go back over all the resources that should be used both IN session and BETWEEN sessions. Your therapist should be using a variety of techniques to make painful processing less painful, like suggesting you turn the scene in your mind to black and white, lower the volume, or, erect a bullet-proof glass wall between you and the painful scene, or, imagine the abuser speaking in a Donald Duck voice... and so forth. There are a lot of these kinds of "interventions" that ease the processing! Bringing your adult self into the memory is a great strategy. Your therapist can use what we call "cognitive interweaves" to help bring your adult self's perspective into the work as well. Such interweaves are based around issues of Safety, Responsibility, and Choice. So T questions like "are you safe now?" or "who was responsible? How big were you compared to how big was the perpetrator?" and "do you have more choices now?" are all very helpful in moving the processing along.
In addition to my therapy practice, I roam the web looking for EMDR discussions, try to answer questions about it posted by clients/patients, and respond to the critics out there. It's not a cure-all therapy, however, it really is an extraordinary method and its results last. Check out the research: <emdr dot com/general-information/research- overview dot html>. In the hands of a really experienced EMDR therapist, also trained in trauma theory/therapy, it's the most gentle way of detoxifying really horrid experiences.
I can't say enough good things about EMDR. It's changed my life both as a person/consumer, and as a therapist. It's so satisfying to have someone come in for help and then to witness them get through their issues and finish therapy relatively quickly (compared to regular talk therapy, it's like night and day). I am both humbled by and grateful for this wonderful method that heals suffering.